The planting season for pine trees is in full swing with about 8 million to 9 million seedlings destined for Northland hill country.
PF Olsen silviculture crews are responsible for planting just over half of these on 4500ha in Northland this winter, according to Northland regional manager Logan Negus.
Looking after PF Olsen's business in Northland entails managing 12 staff, with bases in Waipapa and Maungatapere west of Whangārei.
About 150 people are employed on contract, from engineering and helicopter contractors, logging and metal truck operators to harvesting and silviculture crews.
May to August is the usual planting window, although drought can affect the start date as planters want to give the seedlings the best chance of survival.
Demand for wood in New Zealand remains strong, on top of a worldwide shortage of wooden products.
This demand is good news for the future of the forestry industry.
PF Olsen is one of the largest forest management companies in Australasia, and this year is celebrating 50 years in business.
Started by Peter Francis Olsen in Rotorua, the company employs about 150 staff in New Zealand and about 50 in Australia, where it has been operating for about 10 years.
Negus said it was fortunate that Northland is self-sufficient for contract workers, with some crews also working outside the region on extra contracts.
"Because of Covid lockdown, this year and last year we couldn't bring in overseas seasonal workers to supplement the local workers, but we have enough staff employed locally. Other regions aren't so lucky."
Negus said once the pine seedlings were in the ground, work continued to help them become established during the early years. Work included spot spraying or aerial releasing and pest control.
"The silviculture crews are really skilled at what they do. Planters are generally paid on how many trees they can plant and a good planter can make good money.
"They have to be fit and have a good attitude. A good planter can make $300 a day. A top-of-the-line planter can make $500 a day, but not many can manage that.
"The top planters will be out the van door and planting before the others have got their boots laced. They are real athletes,'' he said.
Negus said there was potentially a lot of travel involved for the gangs, and some sites were remote.
"Sometimes the job might be only 10 minutes down the road, but others might be 1.5 hours away. Once it starts getting too much, the crews look at the option of staying locally, sometimes in a local marae for a week.''
Planting jobs this year ranged from Kaitaia to Helensville for a range of clients, from large estates to farmers with "a block out the back".
"The minimum for PF Olsen to be involved would be 20ha for planting and 5-8ha for harvesting. But if we are working next door we can accommodate smaller jobs,'' he said.
Most pines in Northland are grown on a framing regime for structural timber. Initially planted to about 1000 stems a hectare, the forest is thinned to 600 stems a hectare at about seven to nine years of age. They will generally be harvested at 23 to 26 years old, depending on how good the growth is.
Some forests or stands are pruned to produce clear timber for products like decking timber, and grown longer to be harvested between 25 and 29 years old.
A boutique post-and-pole regime is planted at a higher stocking rate without being thinned and will be harvested about 16 to 18 years old.
"We aim for 95-97 per cent survival rate with our seedlings, but droughts over the past two years have made that difficult.''
Negus said this winter's planting plan of about 8 million seedlings on 4500ha is mainly pine, but includes some eucalypts and native trees.
"A lot of clients are wanting wider riparian margins, up to 30m, so we have been planting manuka as a nursery crop with cabbage trees, kahikatea, flax, titoki and totara."
Eucalypts were being trialled as a durable option for timber that does not have to be tanalised.
"However, if a forest is being planted purely for economic reasons, pines come out on top by a long shot,'' he said.
Negus said there is a huge range of jobs in the forestry industry.
"It's not just about planting trees. Workers are involved in helicopter work, data collation, pest control and roadside spraying.
"Some of the big estates we work on have anything from 10km to 100km of roads that need to be built and maintained, the same as on public roads.''
Northland's climate produces logs with higher density than other regions, offering superior timber for structural use.
Northland's exotic timber harvest has been sitting near 4.5 million tonnes a year for the past five years.
That is set to drop to about 3 million tonnes a year over the next four to five years because fewer pines were planted in Northland in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After that the numbers will pick up again.
"All of our clients plan to have a rotational forest with carbon credits as an add-on,'' he said.
"Log and lumber returns are now very good, even without carbon credits. The net return for pure forest will be better than most sheep and beef farming returns.''